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Belarus court hands DW reporter prison sentence

Irina Filatova
August 7, 2020

DW's Minsk-based freelance journalist Alexander Burakov has been sentenced to 10 days in prison after being arrested on Wednesday night. Belarus authorities have been targeting the media ahead of Sunday's election.

Alexander Burakov
Image: privat

Freelance journalist Alexander Burakov, who reports from Belarus for DW's Russian-language service, was given a 10-day prison sentence on Friday after being arrested earlier in the week.

Burakov was placed in a temporary detention cell on Thursday after being arrested twice by the police in his hometown, Mogilyov, about 200 kilometers (120 miles) east of the capital, Minsk.

Read more: Opinion: Lukashenko is playing games to keep his grip on power

Burakov was stopped by the police Wednesday evening on suspicion of "transporting counterfeit alcohol," he told the nongovernmental human rights center Viasna. After police inspected Burakov's car without finding anything, officers suggested that the vehicle, which he has owned since 2013, had been stolen and the car's identification number might have been faked. As a result, the journalist was taken to the local police station.

A few hours later, Burakov was released — only to be arrested again a few steps from the police station. Boris Vyrvich, the head of the local branch of the Belarusian Association of Journalists in Mogilyov, told DW that, according to witnesses, Burakov had argued with an unidentified woman in front of the police station and screamed out: "It's a provocation." After that, he was seized.

Burakov was convicted of petty hooliganism, a charge that Burakov denies and is considering appealing. According to a transcript of the court hearing published on the website of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, a lobby group, Burakov said that his prosecution was purely political.

Read more: Belarus elections: Lukashenko's authoritarian grip faces test

DW condemns the verdict

DW Director General Peter Limbourg has protested against the sentence, saying that the reasons for Burakov's arrest and conviction provided by the authorities "can only be interpreted as a flimsy excuse to hinder critical and independent journalism a few days before the presidential elections in Belarus."

"On behalf of Deutsche Welle, I protest firmly and in the strongest terms against this obviously arbitrary state action. It blatantly disregards the internationally guaranteed freedom of the press," Limbourg said in a statement issued Friday. He also demanded that the government in Belarus immediately investigate this case. 

Media crackdown

This is Burakov's second short prison sentence this year. He was previously seized on May 8 and sentenced to 10 days in a temporary detention facility. DW attempted to contact Burakov several times in vain on Thursday: His mobile phone had been switched off.

Burakov had expected that he would be detained. A few days before his latest arrest, he told DW that he was worried about possible efforts by the authorities to prevent independent journalists from covering the presidential election.

Reporters Without Borders are among the groups that have condemned treatment of the media in Belarus.

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, along with the foreign ministers of several EU countries, called for free, fair elections in Belarus.

Strongman President Alexander Lukashenko has held power for 25 years and several opposition figures have been arrested in recent months. He has been widely criticized for his refusal to act on the coronavirus pandemic, which he described as a "psychosis."

Elliot Douglas contributed to this article.